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 The international Give-Away Shops meeting

author: florence - 19.09.2002 14:04

After a presentation of Free Shopsfrom Paris, Strasbourg, Berlin,Hamburg, Dresden, Hoenderloo Leiden on Sunday, the give-away collectives came together on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the theory and practise of their initiatives.

Eurodusnie Freeshop in Leiden (NL)

During the presentation, it became clear that the give-away shops are comparable in many ways, but also differ in some respects. The free shops of Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden and Leiden are more or less the same. The free shop in Paris is different, because it does not have a fixed location. Therefore, the initiators describe it as a ‘nomadic’ free shop, as it moves around from place to place. The shop is open 7 days a week, on locations that are not known beforehand.

The activists of the give-away shop in Strasbourg see their project as a psychological and pedagogical project, in which they try to analyse why goods are valued in certain ways. The free shop in Hoenderloo will be finished around November 2002. It differs from the other projects in that it will be located in a small village and will be built totally with free materials.

Definition of give-away shop

At first there were some difficulties defining what a free shop exactly is, especially in relation with free zones. Concluded was that free shops are places where you give goods without receiving money, with the aim to provide an alternative to the capitalist economy. A free shop should not be an exchange shop: It is not necessary to bring something in order to take something. A free shop should furthermore be a social place, with volunteers open to other opinions.The ideological background is not in all cases anarchist.


Opinions differed on the issues of housing and money. Some people held the opinion that a give-away shop should out of principle only be housed in a squat, stating that the shop should have no costs at all. A more important issue was money: some participants argued that it should be possible to put a box inside the shop for voluntary gifts, that can be redistributed to people in need. Others severely opposed any money circulation inside the shop, arguing that the whole idea of the give-away shops is to oppose an economy based on money, which is seen as the basis of inequality.
Another point of discussion was if you can refuse people behaving in an intolerable way to enter the shop. Some people argued that everybody, regardless if they behave in a sexist or racist manner, should be allowed to be in the shop. Other voices disagreed with this statement, but said to be open for discussion at all times.
Finally, there was a discussion on the question if the free shops should have limits to the stuff they give away to one person. Whereas some shops have limited the maximum amount to three or five items, some people pleaded for giving away without any limits or rules.


As becomes clear from the above, there were quite some differences in opinion. Therefore, one of the concrete outcomes of the meeting was the decision to set up a mailing-list to create an international platform for give-away shops.


 If goods are for free, no money is circulated

author: robin - 01.09.2002 19:24

First International Give Away Shops Meeting

Today has seen the first PGA-give away shops/zones meeting. It was an introduction to present some give away shops through Europe. Later during the conference there will be more meetings, to develop a network.

The idea of give-away shops is probably very old, but most current shops/zones got their idea from the shops running in Spain. There were six give away shops that have presented their projects. Three of them are based in Germany. Here is a selection of some presentations.

The shop in Dresden (450.000 inhabitants) has been open since 1994 and is currently having around 1500 visitors a week. It developed from an environmental waste-recycling campaign. see:

Another German give away shop is situated in Berlin. The people behind this initiative complain about bad press coverage. Commercial press is mainly focusing on the social aspects (human interest) only, and neglects political sides of giving goods away for free. The shop itself is based on volunteers. They want to see as little money as possible going around the shop.

An experience in Berlin is that people are even buying things, and bringing them for free to the shop, just to have an excuse to go to the shop. Many people are using it as a social place, where they can talk about all kinds of things, like social problems. Volunteers often engage into discussions with the visitors on the craziness of the capitalist system.

The shop is in a non-commercial part of town, along some bookshops. They give workshops on capitalism, the money-system and Marxist economic theories.

Xavier, an artist from France talked about two give-away zones, one in Paris and one in Strasbourg. The zone in Paris is situated in a very rich part of town, a trendy neighbourhood near the Bastille. The project started in 1998 and now has a relatively large impact. It is open for discussions and seminars as well.

The French activists have set up a different system by which goods are categorised: goods bought; goods found; goods stolen; goods borrowed and goods handmade. These are put in different public spaces.

In Strasbourg people are setting up a research centre on give-away zones. Where do free-zones come from and what are its political aspects? The centre does not want to think about the goods related to a new market as goods bought and sold, but more as goods in the context of production and consumption. How can one make goods for free?, was a question. When the original resources are free and the labour put into it is voluntarily. And when goods are for free, no money is put into circulation.

In Poland some activists are currently looking at a spot in the countryside to create a give-away-zone for farmers. Farmers who have non-used tools can bring them to the shop, so they can be used by other farmers.

In Leeds there is a new social centre with a vegan restaurant and a give-away shop. Their idea has been very simple. They just created a space, put up some shelves and cleaned them and told people they could bring goods and take other goods for free. They only noticed that goods that were put under the shelves were not taken away.

An other idea that had been put forward was to create a space in the shop, with a little notice that air is for free as well.

In the coming meetings there will be discussions about the theory behind the give-away shops, about the meaning of free-zones and to which political perspectives the shops are open to. If the shops are part of a bigger movement and how they can create an international network of these free-zones. Questions about how to motivate people to bring goods in are also point of discussion.

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